The real reason why Amazon cut off WikiLeaks

Dave Winer thinks he knows. And my guess is that he’s right.

Here’s how he tells it.

Today I got a promotional email from Kay Kinton, Senior Public Relations Manager for Amazon Web Services, entitled “Amazon Web Services Year in Review.” It contained a paragraph, quoted below, that explains how their government business grew in 2010.

“Government adoption of AWS [Amazon Wb Services] grew significantly in 2010. The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board became the first government-wide agency to migrate to a cloud-based environment when it moved to AWS in March 2010. Today we have nearly 20 government agencies leveraging AWS, and the U.S. federal government continues to be one of our fastest growing customer segments. The U.S. General Services Administration awarded AWS the ability to provide government agencies with cloud services through the government's cloud storefront, Additional AWS customers include, the Federal Register 2.0 at the National Archives, the project at DoE’s National Renewable Energy Lab, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at USDA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA. The current AWS compliance framework covers FISMA, PCI DSS Level 1, ISO 27001, SAS70 type II, and HIPAA, and we continue to seek certifications and accreditations that make it easier for government agencies to benefit from AWS. To learn more about how AWS works with the federal government, visit:”

Dave writes that “It makes perfect sense that the US government is a big customer of Amazon’s web services. It also makes perfect sense that Amazon wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that business. There might not have even been a phone call, it might not have been necessary.”

This strikes me as being spot on. Amazon’s original reasons for dropping WikiLeaks always seemed feeble — and indeed unlikely to stand up in court. But the company’s decision has been useful in drawing attention to the underlying issue. Political discourse is increasingly conducted via cloud services like Amazon’s. That means that it’s moved into a space that is essentially private. As someone observed at the beginning of the WikiLeaks affair, it’s as if our political discourse had moved from the parks and streets and into shopping malls. And that means that important aspects of free speech will henceforth exist at the mercy of corporate whim. This is bad news for democracy.